Canola oil, a product developed from the hybridization of rapeseed, has recently become a favorite of nutritionists and physicians who claim that it has the ability to lower the risk of heart disease. We all know which foods to eat to improve our health — but how we cook the food is just as important. With so many different cooking oils and butter products claiming to boast the greatest health benefits, exactly how should we know what to use and what to avoid?

Read on to learn all you need to know about oils, butter, margarine, and cooking sprays, as well as the best ways to use them.

1- Canola oil
Canola oil, a product developed from the hybridization of rapeseed, has recently become a favorite of nutritionists and physicians who claim that it has the ability to lower the risk of heart disease.

Pros
Low in saturated fat
High in monounsaturated fat
Contains a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids
Has the best fatty acid composition (good fat vs. bad fat) when compared to other oils

As we know from America's long history with health trends, if something is good for you one day, it has problems the next. Canola oil, despite being a source of healthy fat, has also been linked to several unsavory health issues. Although the detrimental qualities are low, there are a few negatives related to the oil.

Cons
Has the potential to become rancid more quickly than other oils
When heated at high temperatures (via pan frying), the resulting smoke from the oil has been linked to increased rates of lung cancer
There is scientific literature suggesting that a toxin (4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal) forms when canola oil is heated to very high temperatures

How to use canola oil: Canola oil can be used in sauting, as a marinade and in low- to medium-temperature stir-frying (it is best to use a different type of oil for high-temperature frying).

What to pair canola oil with: Canola oil has a bland flavor, which makes it a great base for any dish that includes a lot of spices (like Chinese, Indian and Thai). Unlike many oils with a strong flavor, the taste of canola will not interfere with the taste of your meal.

2- Olive oil
The Mediterranean secret to good health and long life has become a top-selling oil in America and the rest of the world. Olive oil's distinct flavor, combined with its portfolio of heart-healthy ingredients, makes it one of today's most popular oils.

Pros
Rich in monounsaturated fat
Includes phytochemicals that can lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cancer
Rich in antioxidants
Its storage life is longer than other oils and it can be frozen (freezing also preserves the nutrients in the oil)

Although the pros of olive oil far outweigh the cons, this product still has a few skeletons in its closet.

Cons
Olive oil will lose some of its flavor when heated (heating with high temperatures evaporates the alcohols and esters that give the oil its taste)
The oil can become unstable when heated at high temperatures, which can create a cellular imbalance in those who consume it, increasing the risk of
heart disease

How to use olive oil: Although olive oil can be used in cooking, it is healthiest when consumed uncooked, such as in salad dressings or dipping sauces.

When used for cooking, it is smart to heat the oil on low to medium temperatures only (avoiding high heat).

Pure olive oil (not extra virgin) is recommended for sauting (low to medium temperatures), while extra virgin is recommended for uncooked foods.

What to pair olive oil with: Olive oil has a rich olive flavor that can complement a variety of cold and warm sauces, marinades and dressings.

When used for cooking (low to medium temperatures), olive oil's flavor is a delicious addition to Mediterranean-style dishes (such as Greek and Italian).

3- Soybean oil
Soybean oil is, as the name suggests, a vegetable oil derived from soybeans. Soybeans have become popular in recent years because of their health benefits. Soybean oil boasts many of the same claims.

Pros
High in omega-3 content
Great source of vitamin E
Rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids

As with other types of vegetable oils, soybean oil has a few health hazards when used for cooking.

Cons
Not stable enough to withstand high cooking temperatures
There is scientific literature that suggests the toxin 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal forms when the oil is heated to very high temperatures (via pan or deep frying)

How to use soybean oil: It is already commonly found in different types of margarine, salad dressings and mayonnaise, so chances are, you're already eating it.

When used at home, it is great for sauting meats and vegetables (on low temperatures).

It's not the best choice for salad dressings, however, as the flavor is not strong enough to stand alone.

What to pair soybean oil with: Asian recipes, Indian dishes or other types of cuisine that already include flavorful spices.

Butter up your meals...

4- Butter
Butter: to eat or not to eat? This question has been debated for years by physicians, nutritionists and chefs. Once perceived as the heart's enemy, butter is now being recommended in small amounts because of its ability to break down more easily in the body than processed margarines and other spreads.

Pros
Tastes good
Source of
vitamin A and fat-soluble vitamins, such as E, K and D
Supplies selenium, which is an antioxidant; also provides iodine, which is needed for the thyroid gland
Made with natural ingredients (not artificially or chemically processed)

Despite the pros of butter, there are many obvious cons. The few nutrients found in butter are much healthier when derived from other foods. Butter is generally a high-fat, high-cholesterol food that should be consumed in small amounts.

Cons
High in saturated fat and cholesterol (can lead to heart disease)
High in calories

How to use butter: Butter can be used in cooking (sauting, stir frying, pan frying) and baking, and can also be used as a spread or as an ingredient in dips or other sauces.

What to pair butter with: Creamy sauces, meat marinades, any baked dish (sweet or savory), and bread.

5- Margarine
Margarine was introduced to the world as an alternative to high-fat, high-cholesterol butter. When margarine was created, however, it was loaded with trans fat, a substance that health professionals now know raises bad cholesterol, lowers good cholesterol and leads to a myriad of other health issues.

Although many current margarine makers have created trans-fat-free margarine (often called "soft margarine"), there are still many types that include trans fat. Here's the good, the bad and the ugly on margarine:

Pros
Tastes good
Lower in fat than most oils and butter
Easy to use (spreadable)
Available in a variety of different products
Source of vitamin E

Cons
Although lower in fat than butter, most brands of margarine are made with hydrogenated oils (hydrogenation is a process that solidifies oil — this process produces trans fat, which has been linked to high cholesterol and other health issues).

How to use margarine: Margarine can be used as a substitute for butter in many dishes, including as a spread (the most popular use), or for pan frying or sauting meat or vegetables.

Slab it on or spray it out...

Using margarine for baking can be challenging, as product oils differ (depending on the type and brand of margarine used) and can, therefore, affect recipe results.

What to pair margarine with: Margarine has a pleasant taste that makes it very versatile. Margarine generally tastes good on uncooked foods (bread, toast) and can add a rich, creamy flavor to pan-fried meats or vegetables and different types of sauces.

When selecting a margarine, keep this in mind: Brands with a higher fat content contribute texture and browning properties to food (similar to how butter reacts when used in cooking), whereas brands that are lower in fat may not perform similarly in sauting or baking (therefore altering the results of the dish).

6- Vegetable oil cooking spray
From the country that practically invented the word "convenience" comes an easy-to-use type of cooking oil: vegetable oil spray. As if pouring oil from the bottle weren't easy enough, Americans can simply "shoot and spray" their oil on pans and baking dishes.

Pros
Easy to use
The amount that comes out of the bottle is very small, so unless you use a lot, it will not add much fat to the meal

Cons
Most sprays are made with full-fat oil, so if you spray it in large quantities, it can be very high in calories and fat

How to use cooking spray: Point and shoot at the skillet or baking dish instead of "greasing the pan."

Some cooking sprays are flavored like butter and used on bread or toast (although using the real thing usually tastes better).

What to pair cooking spray with: It is best to use cooking spray as a base (to ensure that foods do not stick to pans or baking dishes).

When cooking meat or vegetables, or baking sweet foods, stick to butter or regular oil.
greasing up with the best oil
So what type of oil should you keep in your kitchen? Try some variety and include several different types. We recommend using a combination of oils for a balanced and varied diet.

As we always say, everything is best consumed in moderation. Generally speaking, oil, butter and margarine are all relatively high in fat and calories. To that end, mix it up based on taste and the dish that you're cooking. Remember: A little goes a long way, so use only what you need.

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